I live in an area with some extraordinary bread: complex naturally-leavened creations from Acme or Semifreddi's, surprisingly light 100 percent whole wheat from Vital Vittles and many other great offerings. And yet I still bake most of my own bread (even sourdough on occasion).
The transformation of the uninteresting ingredients of flour and water into something that is alive and aromatic is a magical experience for me. Bread baking is a physical act, an observational act, an exercise in patience, and eventually a wonderful sensory experience.
Bread presents a locality problem for Northern Californians, as not much wheat is grown in California. There are a few sources of wheat, to be sure, like Full Belly Farm in Yolo County. And bread doesn't have to be one-hundred percent wheat -- loaves can loaded with goodies like nuts, seeds, grains and fruits.
So for the past year, I've been experimenting with what I call the "local loaf," a loaf of bread made using many ingredients available at the Berkeley Farmers Market or from local sources: whole wheat flour from Full Belly Farm in Yolo County, pecans from Sonoma County, honey from Napa County, milk from Straus Family Creamery in Marin County and brown rice from Massa Organics in Butte County (the locations are mapped after the jump). In the end, around sixty percent of the raw ingredients (by weight excluding water) were from local sources.
As I worked on this project over many months, I thought about conceptual art. In conceptual art, the concept behind the work takes precedence over the aesthetics of the piece. Tom Marioni's Walking and Drawing a Line as Far as I Can Reach, for example, are explorations of human activity -- the actions of walking and reaching, respectively. If I wanted to stretch some words a bit, I could almost call the project of making bread from local ingredients "conceptual baking." That is, the concept of using local ingredients took precedence over flavor and texture (but not too much precedence -- the bread is quite tasty).
After the jump, I present my recipe for this bread and a map showing the source of the local ingredients.
This recipe starts with a 'sponge' of water, milk, flour and a little bit of yeast that ferments for a few hours to help develop the gluten and improve the bread's texture. It also provides more flavor to the finished loaf. The rest of the ingredients are later mixed into the sponge before kneading.
The dough is fairly wet and sticky, so I always use my stand mixer when making this bread. You could probably knead by hand with the judicious application of flour, skillful use of a dough scraper, and plenty of tolerance for gooey hands.
Since the loaf is loaded with rice, whole wheat flour, and pecans, it has an unusual texture. It also has a distinctive flavor, somewhere between rice and wheat. Truth be told, it has received mixed reviews so far from the people to whom I have given a loaf. But I like how it tastes. And the project of integrating local ingredients (especially the sublime brown rice from Massa Organics) was entertaining and rewarding.
Recipe: Brown Rice and Pecan Bread
For the sponge
- 225 g (1 c.) milk
- 275 g (1 1/4 c.) water
- 150 g (1 1/4 c.) white bread flour
- 150 g (1 1/2 c.) whole wheat flour
- 3/4 g (1/4 t.) yeast (instant or active dry, see note below)
For the dough
- The sponge from above
- 350 g (2 1/2 c.) white bread flour
- 200 g (2 c.) whole wheat flour
- 300 g (1 3/4 c.) cooked brown rice
- 25 g (2 T.) neutral-flavored oil
- 40 g (2 T.) honey
- 6 g (2 t.) yeast (instant or active dry, see note below)
- 12 g (2 t.) salt
- 80 g (3/4 c.) pecans, walnuts or sunflower seeds, broken into pieces
- A mixing bowl large enough to hold the dough
- A bowl to hold rising dough (lightly oiled)
- A stand mixer with a dough hook (helpful, but not essential)
- Two bread pans, each with 5 cup volume, lightly oiled
- Wire racks
Make the sponge Combine the milk and water, then heat it to about 105 F (40 C). Combine the flours and instant yeast (or dissolved active dry yeast, see note below) in the bowl for your stand mixer (or a large bowl, if making the dough by hand). Add the milk and water (and rehydrated yeast, if using) stirring until well mixed. It will be very wet and soupy. Cover the bowl with a plate, plastic wrap or a lid, and let it sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours. While the sponge is resting, cook the rice and let it cool.
Mix and knead the dough Stir the sponge lightly, then add the remaining flour, salt, honey, oil and instant yeast (or dissolved yeast, see note below).
Attach the dough hook to your stand mixer. Mix the dough at low speed (setting 2 on a KitchenAid) until the dough comes together. It will look shaggy for the first minute or two, then will start to become smooth.
Increase the speed to medium (setting 4) and knead for three minutes. Add the rice. Knead at medium (setting 4) for two minutes. Add the nuts. Knead for one minute more to fully incorporate the nuts into the dough.
First rise Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl or other container. Cover the top. Allow the dough to rise for one to two hours, or until it has doubled in volume.
Shaping and second rise Oil two loaf pans (mine are 9" x 4" x 3"). Remove the dough from the rising container, handling it gently so that it does not excessively deflate. Cut the dough into two roughly equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, form one of the dough pieces into a rectangle that is as wide as and slightly longer than the loaf pan (the process is similar to making a jelly roll or roulade). Gently roll the dough into a cylinder, then transfer it to the prepared loaf pan. Repeat with the second piece.
Cover the two loaves with a kitchen towel and allow them to rise for about one hour, until they are roughly doubled in size.
Bake the loaves About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and remove all racks that are above it. Turn on the oven to 375 F (190 C).
Bake the loaves for about 45 minutes, until golden brown. After removing them from the oven, allow them to sit for a few minutes, then carefully extract them from the loaf pans. Cool on wire racks.
Notes on yeast: You can use active dry yeast or instant yeast to make this bread. Instant yeast is convenient because it can be added directly to the dry ingredients. Active dry yeast, in contrast, requires a few minutes of rehydration before it can be used. To do this, combine it with warm liquid and let it sit for a few minutes to dissolve. A layer of foam should appear on top of the mixture.
Sources of the local ingredients:
- Marshall (40 mi), Straus Family Creamery: milk
- Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm: pecans
- Middletown (63 mi), Michael Huber: honey
- Guinda (67 mi), Full Belly Farm: whole wheat flour
- Chico (130 mi), Massa Organics: brown rice
In addition, the flour that I typically use (Giusto's) is milled in San Francisco (using non-local wheat that probably comes from Kansas or the Dakotas).